18th Century Major English Novelists

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      The novel came in full-fledged form in the eighteenth century with Samuel Richardson. Richardson (1689-1761) was the first novelist of the period and his Pamela was the first novel. Fielding published Joseph Andrews in 1742 to ridicule Richardson's Pamela which was the story of a virtuous woman. Richardson was asked to prepare a series of model letters for those who could not write for themselves. This humble task taught Richardson that he had at his finger's tips the art of expressing himself in letters. In the years that followed, he published three long works on which his reputation rests: Pamela, Clarissa, and Sir Charles Grandison. In each instance the central story is a simple one.

18th century major novelists
Richardson, Fielding & Smollett

      Pamela was a virtuous maid-servant who resisted the attempts at seduction of the son of her late mistress and as a reward gained from him a proposal for marriage which she gladly accepted. Clarissa was a virtuous lady. Tormented by the pressure of her family, who urged on her a detestable suitor, she fled from home to the protection of the attractive Mr. Lovelace, who once had got her in his power showed his attentions in a manner which she could not mistake. He put her in a brothel and tried to molest her. She resisted all his attempts at seduction. She was not even moved by his expressions of sorrow and repentance. She died of shame. Sir Charles Grandison was a model gentleman who rescued one lady who was engaged to another.

      Judged as a writer of stories, Richardson could not stand high but his genius is revealed by the novelty of form in which he told the narrative through letters. Moreover, his strength lay in the knowledge of the human heart in the delineation of the shades of sentiment. In Richardson, this analysis of sentiment becomes the dominant motive and is pursued with a minuteness and patience which gave to the English novel a depth and dimension. Clarissa is his master piece. He showed nis power of characterisation in the depiction of the characters of Clarissa and Lovelace. There was a touch of middle class morality in his novels, but his realism in narration combined with a skill in dialogue gave him an established place in the history or the English novel. Clarissa Harlowe in eight volumes written in 1748 is his greatest novel. Its epistolary form, its delineation of characters, its dramatic development of plot make it a remarkable achievement in the new genre that developed in the age.

      Henry Fielding (1707-1754) who was a dramatist took an early opportunity or satirising the novels of Richardson. In 1742 he published Joseph Andreo to ridicule Richardson's Pamela. He contrived the satire by reversing the situation in Richardson's novel. Fielding's purpose in this novel is one of satire. He is attracted, however, by the contrast between the novels with its picture of humble contemporary life and the classical epic. With this in mind he calls his novel a comic epic in prose and it leads him to introduce a burlesque element into the style and the incident of the novel. The motive of satire completely dominated his second narrative, The History of Jonathan Wilde the Great. In this novel he took the life of a thief and deceiver who had been hanged at Tyburn.

      The History of Tom Jones (1749) by Fielding is the greatest novel of the Eighteenth century. Here Fielding takes an enormous canvas and crowds it with figures. His hero is a foundling who is brought up in the west of England by a squire named All Worthy with whom, however, he quarrels and he travels to London in search of fortune. This novel is carefully planned and executed. The reader is kept in suspense until the close as to the final resolution of the action. It gives also the fullest and richest picture of English life about the middle of the Eighteenth century.

      Tom Jones is called a picaresque novel because it narrates the story of a roving hero. But it is a great achievement in its plot-construction and epical breadth and moral vision. Tom is sensual and is involved in many sexual adventures. But he never corrupts innocence and his generosity is prominent in his relationship with Molly, Nancy, Mrs. Waters and with the game-keeper. Other characters are guided by money considerations and sexual perversity, but Tom is unpractical but never selfish. Thus Fielding puts morality in a new perspective. The novel is an ironical commentary on the selfishness, snobbery and so-called prudence of the Eighteenth century from the point of view of Tom and Sophia. Its three parts the Country, Road and London provide a panoramic view of eighteenth century society with its squires, clergy, schoolmaster, doctor, quaker, highwayman and women like Mrs. Waters, Lady Bellaston. All characters and episodes are linked' to the whole. Fielding's last novel Amelia pivots the interest on the character of a woman. The story tells of the courage and patience of a devoted wife and of the ill-doings of her weak-willed husband.

            Henry Fielding was the greatest novelist of the eighteenth century and his Tom Jones was the greatest novel of the period. The novel arose in the eighteenth century because the philosophy based on reason and realism was best suited to the development of the novel. Fielding's second novel, The History of Jonathan Wilde the Great is about a thief. Tom Jones is the story of a foundling who is brought up by a Squire. He quarrels with him and goes out to London in search of fortune. On the road he meets many men who are greedy, selfish and are guided by the so-called prudence. In London he is engaged in many amorous adventures and he is jailed. The novel gives the fullest account of english life in the eighteenth century. Tom's spontaneous nature is shown against the background of falsehood, snobbery and hypocrisy of the age. The novel has an epic breath and it is carefully constructed. Fielding's last novel Amelia centres on the courage and patience of a devoted wife.

      With Fielding the novel as a form of art came to establish itself. He was concerned about the structural principles of prose fiction. His own success in construction was not indeed very great but he deserves the fullest credit for what he did both in theory and practice to carry over into the novel those ideas of unity and coherence which are essential to any work of art. He was after all a moralist like Richardson, a social satirist and teacher, but there is a difference between the calculating moral code of Richardson and the generous warm-hearted approach to life which Fielding admired.

      Tobias Smollett (1721-1771) was Fielding's contemporary. He brought to the novel nothing that was new in form, but he was able to introduce a new background in the accounts of the sea during the vivid days of the old navy. In his first novel, Roderic Random, (1748), he portrays the life of his rogue hero until his marriage with the loyal and beautiful Nercissa. The picture of the reckless sea life in this novel is his most solid claim to be remembered. Peregrine Pickley is again the novel of a rogue who follows a wicked life until he marries the virtuous Emilia. In Ferdinand Count Fathom, he draws a fantastic villain, Sir Launcelot Greaves who is an eighteenth century English version of Don Quixote. His Humphrey Clinker (1771) is, however, finer in tone and richer in genuine comedy of character. Smollett's novels stick to the picaresque tradition in the looseness of composition and in his dependence upon action. Smollett wrote expressly as a satirist and reformer and his purpose was to paint the monstrous evils of life in their true colours. Although he compared unfavourably with the other two writers of fiction, yet he extended the scope of fiction as the creator of the English novel of the sea and sailors. With his violent and lively stories he lived long in popular estimation as the influence of Dickens.

      Of the eighteenth century novelists, the strangest is Laurence Sterne (1713-1768). His Life and opinions of Tristram Shandy is a mixture of unconnected incidents, scraps of odd learning, fancies, humour and pathos. Tristram Shandy has no plot, no story, no action whatsoever. It has not even a hero or heroine. It is a rambling combination of anecdotes, digressions, reflections, jests, parodies and dialogues. It is a record of man's consciousness. It dispenses with the chronological order in the narrative technique. It is the first 'Stream-of-Consciousness' novel in English literature. He owes his rank as novelist to the wonderful power of his character-drawing in the elder Shandy and his wife, Corporal Trim and uncle Tody. Sterne introduced a fresh type of man - the man of feeling. While he laughed at the odd experiences of life, he felt for mankind afflicted and suffering. To this indulgence in sentiment, the name sentimental may be attached and Sterne himself used this term in his Sentimental journey. He was not of course the creator of this tearful mood, but his work fell in line with a first growing fashion. Moreover, his Tristram Shandy is regarded as anticipating the stream of consciousness novel of the twentieth century.

      Henry Mackenzie intensified the sentimental mood of the novel in his book The Man of feeling in which the hero is for ever weeping under the stress of some pathetic scene or emotional excitement.

      In the late eighteenth century, the developments of the novel are too diverse to be easily described. On these Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield stands prominent. In structure, this novel is ill-constructed, full of glaring improbabilities. But its humour is permanently delightful. While much of its characterisation is purely conventional, no praise would be excessive for the subtlety with which the good Dr. Primrose and his family are portrayed.

      Samuel Johnson's Rasselas is an Abyssinian narrative which employs the story only for philosophical argument. It is a powerful attack on eighteenth century optimism. The most direct English successor of Richardson was Fanny Burney. Enelina, her first and best novel describes with admirable illustrative incidents the entry of a county girl into the adventures of London. Cecilia, though more complex is less natural and less effective. Her later novels were failures.

      Among these eighteenth century developments, the growth of what is caled Gothic Novel or the novel of terror is notable. This type of the novel leads the readers into that underworld of fiction which continues into the tales of horror and crime so popular today. Among these novels Robert Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, Vathek and Mrs. Ana Radcliff's The Mysteries of Udolpho are important.

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